(Another) Tale of Two Guitars

I was all set to do a blog about the relative merits of the Stratocaster and Telecaster models first developed by Leo Fender, and then on searching through my previous posts discovered that I had posted on the topic at least once already. You know you’re past it when you start posting the same stuff over and over…

So this post is about two guitars again, but with a difference.

Exhibit A: my trusty Harley Benton Telecaster copy, acquired a few years ago from a mate in exchange for a microphone. My only permanent electric guitar, it’s currently seeing service in the recording of my next album (and the one after that) as well as, in the rehearsal room, doing a fairly good impression of Dylan’s own basic rhythm parts (1) in the forthcoming Oh Mercy show.

However, I recently acquired a Strat copy, and thereby hangs a tale.

In the States there’s a charity where you can donate musical instruments to those less able to afford them than you, and I’ve always wondered if there was a UK equivalent. Well, now, it appears, there is one local to me.

We Make Music Instrument Libraries is a way of making musical instruments available to the public in libraries across Scotland. It’s allied to existing music projects, including ones in Craigmillar, Drumbrae, Muirhouse, Wester Hailes, and Moredun.  For those of you that don’t know the city, these areas tend to be on the outskirts of it and hit most, if not all, of the usual indicators of deprivation.

This inspired me to stop looking at guitars for sale groups on Facebook with a view to

persuading Alison there was no such thing as too many guitars, and instead at the bargain basement end of instruments that would work but perhaps needed a bit of love. Which is where I discovered the Rio Community Centre in Newport-on-Tay, its redoubtable cheerleader-cum-force of nature Elizabeth, and a Strat copy going for the very reasonable sum of £15.

Here it is, Exhibit B: A Crafter Cruiser Strat copy.

How it and the rest of the instruments currently being stored there (some of which may also in due course find their way to the Instrument Library) is a curious tale. According to Elizabeth, a St Andrews community facility who shall remain nameless gave her 45 minutes to come over and pick them up, or otherwise they were being sent to landfill – a shocking waste of public money, not to mention perfectly functional musical instruments.

The Strat, by the way, wasn’t exactly perfectly functional, and I have my friend, bandmate and vocal engineer Graham Crawford to thank for cleaning up the electrics, adding a couple of missing bits, and restringing her for me. Now she can sing again, and has been handed over to my local library for collection by their colleagues.

But first, I decided to give her a trial. In the end of the day of course, how a guitar sounds comes down a lot to what you plug it into: different amps and effects pedals can make either of these guitars sound like a Lear Jet taking off if that’s what you really fancy.

However, the experiment – using a mainly keyboard-based track I had prepared earlier – showcases I think some of the relative strengths of the two. I’ve always liked the clean, second position from top sound of a Strat popularised by the likes of Mark Knopfler. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a Tele with the tone turned up to the max and the bottom option on the selector switch for that shimmering, reverb-laden curtain of sound.

So, other than the different parts I’m playing on them, I’ve used the same settings – bit of EQ, compression, and reverb turned to the same place on the dial. The difference comes from the guitars themselves: as the song reaches its final verse, you’ll hear the Strat noodling away in your right ear, the Tele in your left.

 

If you want to hear and see a Strat played properly, here’s the aforesaid Mr Knopfler:

If you want to go down that particular rabbit hole of Strat vs Tele, by the way, there are about a thousand YouTube videos about it, but I lost the will to live after this one:

(1) Played, completist Dylan fans, on Daniel Lanois’ Butterscoth 52 vintage Tele.

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